Building a huge Deadlift is something a lot of people out there want to achieve. For me, anything over 2.5x your bodyweight would be considered a big Deadlift!
For a 200 lb man, this is equal to a 500 lb pull which is definitely considered strong by my standards!
For me, my absolute best was a 500 lb Deadlift. My form broke down a bit but at 6’5″ tall it’s definitely been a feat to have solid form that’s for sure!
The purposes of this article are to go over some of the basic tips and tricks I’ve used with myself and my clients to build strong Deadlifts quickly.
All of my female clients have Deadlifted 200+ lbs in less than 3 months of training so I would say I have a little bit of experience when it comes to building a stronger Deadlift.
And with that, let’s get into the article! Here we go!
Table Of Contents
- 1 1. Improve Your Grip Strength
- 2 2. Use A Weight Belt
- 3 3. Use A Mixed Grip
- 4 4. Train Heavier
- 5 5. Build A Big Squat
- 6 6. Find Out Which Deadlift Variations Work Best For You
- 7 7. Directly Train Abs & Low Back
- 8 8. Use Lifting Straps Sparingly
- 9 9. Drive Your Feet Through The Floor
- 10 10. Deadlift Less
- 11 11. Focus On Your Technique
- 12 12. Do Romanian Deadlifts!
- 13 13. Record Your Lifts
- 14 14. Eat Enough To Fuel Hard Deadlift Training
- 15 15. Start From A Dead Stop
- 16 16. Build Stronger Deadlift Muscles
- 17 17. Find The Best Deadlift Set-Up For You
- 18 18. Implement Rack/Block Pulls
- 19 19. Be Aggressive
- 20 20. Do A Lot Of Submaximal Reps
- 21 21. Perform Deadlifts First
- 22 22. Engage Your Lats
- 23 23. “Squeeze” The Weight Off The Ground
- 24 24. Pull The Slack Out Of The Bar
- 25 25. Hold Your Breath!
1. Improve Your Grip Strength
At the top of our list, we have working on improving your grip strength. This is important for multiple reasons!
- The stronger your grip is the more muscle fibers will fire in your body. This is a pretty interesting factor most people don’t think of. Squeeze your hands as hard as you can, what do you notice happening? Probably your entire body tensing up right? It’s the same idea when squeezing a barbell to do a heavy Deadlift. By improving your grip strength, your body can utilize more power.
- A lot of times grip strength is your limiting factor. This is something I notice with a lot of my newer clients. 9 times out of 10 they don’t actually work major muscle groups as much as they can due to their grip strength holding them back. Luckily, by Deadlifting you can improve your grip strength over time without doing much else. Other ways to build a stronger grip are by getting stronger in things such as Farmer Walks, Rows, Pulldowns, and Deadlifts of course. Try to do as many sets as you can without lifting straps and only incorporate them when necessary. Also, Deadlifting with a regular double overhand grip instead of a mixed grip will improve your overall grip strength significantly.
If you think working on grip strength is a waste of time, prepare to be weak your entire life. The stronger your grip is the stronger your body and ultimately your Deadlift will be.
2. Use A Weight Belt
Deadlifting in the early stages of training beltless is a great idea for developing overall core and posterior chain strength. As you get stronger, however, it’s a great idea to start wearing a lifting belt!
The best ones I recommend are from Pioneer Fit.
By wearing a belt Deadlifting, you can hold your air and push your abs and low back out against the belt. This increases stability and intra-abdominal pressure.
The strongest people in the world wear belts on their heaviest sets. This allows them to train hard, get stronger, and stay safe.
If you want to build a bigger Deadlift, get a solid lifting belt and wear it on all of your heaviest sets. This will allow you to lift more weight safely.
3. Use A Mixed Grip
I recommended using a double overhand grip to improve grip strength before. But this is only for warm-ups and higher rep sets.
When the goal is heavy weight, utilizing a mixed grip will increase your grip strength automatically and allow you to Deadlift more reps even when your set should be over.
The main reason for this is pretty simple. Look down at your hands on a regular overhand grip, you have 8 fingers wrapped around one side of the bar and your two thumbs on the other side.
By switching this and taking a mixed grip, you now have an even amount of fingers on both sides of the bar! 4 fingers and 1 thumb on each side!
This allows for a stronger grip and as I said before, the stronger your grip is the more muscle fibers you’re going to be able to fire.
One time I tested this in action! I was doing a set of 10 at 350 lbs and around rep number 8 my grip was starting to give. I switched to a mixed grip and proceeded to do 7 more reps for a 15 rep set at 350 lbs.
As you can see, the difference between grip strength is exceptional! An important thing to note is to keep your underhand arm locked out so there isn’t a ton of tension on your bicep. This can AND WILL TEAR your bicep if you’re not careful!
Other than that, there aren’t any real downsides to using a mixed grip. Definitely try it out and see how much stronger you get implementing it!
4. Train Heavier
Unlike other barbell movements, high reps on the Deadlift are rarely a good idea. The majority of the time, doing reps higher than 10 results in excessive form break down.
Because the Deadlift is a highly technical movement, we really have to make sure our form is locked in. This is why training Deadlifts heavier in the 3-6 rep range is such a great idea.
It allows you to push the reps with solid form without losing core tightness with higher rep sets.
Just make sure you take your time with your form before you start doing heavier sets. Keep at least 1 rep in the tank and never go to failure on Deadlifts. This is a great way to get injured and spend months afraid to pick up a loaded barbell.
5. Build A Big Squat
There are a ton of muscle groups that contribute to building a big squat and a big deadlift. Usually, by building a stronger Squat, you’ll improve your Deadlift right along with it.
Squatting builds the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, low back, and many other muscle groups in the body. The stronger your Squat is, the stronger your Deadlift will be by default.
If your goal is absolute strength, getting a stronger Squat will make your entire body bigger and stronger as a result.
The best way to build a bigger Squat is detailed in this article “Ultimate Guide To Build Your Squat”.
6. Find Out Which Deadlift Variations Work Best For You
Accessory exercises are close variations of a main lift that train similar muscle groups in a slightly different way.
If you get these lifts stronger, your main lift will most likely get stronger right along with it.
There are a couple of deadlift variations that will suffice.
- Conventional Deadlift. This is the standard Deadlift form that most people see at the gym. Your conventional deadlift stance will be narrow with your hands outside of your legs.
- Sumo Deadlift. Sumo Deadlift has seen a big increase in the world of strength sports over the past few years. Your stance with this will be much wider than a Conventional Deadlift and your hands will be inside of your legs instead.
- Trap Bar Deadlift. Trap Bar Deadlifts use a special barbell called a Trap Bar, or Hex Bar. This special bar allows you to stand inside of it and hold the bar out at your sides with a neutral grip. This allows you to Deadlift much more upright. Because of this, this is the best way to Deadlift if you’re taller or a beginner.
The standard conventional deadlift involves much more of the lower back and Hamstrings than any other type of Deadlift. If you have longer arms and shorter legs this is definitely going to be a solid style of Deadlift to train.
The Trap Bar Deadlift involves much more quads and glutes than the Conventional Deadlift.
Because of the wide foot stance, you have to get much closer to the bar and have exceptional hip mobility to train this variation correctly.
For those with longer legs and shorter torsos, the Sumo Deadlift is an awesome movement that works well for building strength in the entire body.
Trap Bar Deadlift
The Trap Bar Deadlift allows you to keep a much more upright position. This allows you to train with heavy weights without putting a ton of strain on your lower back.
The Trap Bar Deadlift starts you off in a much lower position than a standard Deadlift which involves the quads much more. This is by far one of the best Deadlift variations to train beginners. I don’t have to worry about their form as much and it’s much easier to do correctly than either a Conventional or Sumo stance deadlift.
Regardless of what style Deadlift you choose as your main lift, I would recommend training all of them at some point or another. This will give you much more muscular and strength development than relying on only one.
7. Directly Train Abs & Low Back
A lot of people tend to think that simply training compound movements such as the Squat and Deadlift is enough to train the abs and low back. I’ve seen multiple cases of why this is not true based on my own training and my clients as well!
9 times out of 10, building stronger abs and low back strength makes a huge improvement in how stable your core is while training the Deadlift. The stronger and more stable your core is the more power you can transfer into the bar.
The best movements I’ve found to train the Abs and Low Back directly are:
- Ab Wheel
- Decline Weighted Situps
- Hanging Leg Raises
- Low Back
- Back Extensions
- Romanian Deadlift
The best way to train your low back and abs is with exercises that provide Progressive Overload. This means you can add load to the exercise or make it harder.
Doing thousands of situps is a great way to build endurance in your abdominals, but doing heavier sets of 10-30 reps with weighted situps is better.
For Back Extensions, sets of 10-30 work great and it’s very easy to load as well. As for Romanian Deadlift, it’s a great movement for building the hamstrings and lower back in the 5-10 rep range.
Train your core directly and I guarantee your Deadlift will feel stronger, and your abs/low back will remain injury free for longer!
8. Use Lifting Straps Sparingly
All of my beginner clients have the same problem, their grip strength is definitely the weakest link in their bodies.
One of the major things I try to do with them is train the Deadlift and its variations with a double overhand grip for as long as possible. Namely on their warmups and as long as it doesn’t affect performance.
Over time, however, we get to a point where their bodies are strong enough to handle more weight but their grip strength isn’t up to par, unfortunately. When this happens we use lifting straps to allow for more overload of the Deadlift without the grip being a huge drawback.
Obviously using lifting straps on every set is a bad idea and something I would never recommend. Use them on your top sets and only when they’re absolutely necessary.
9. Drive Your Feet Through The Floor
I’ve seen this many times and not just from beginner lifters! And I’m sure you’ve seen it too!
When Deadlifting, your goal isn’t to pull the ground off of the ground with your upper body. If you do this, it’ll look something like this.
Mind you, this was a PR of 500 lbs for me so some form breakdown is okay. And with that in mind, make sure when you’re doing sets of 3-6 this isn’t happening.
You want to think about pushing your feet through the floor and keeping a neutral spine with your back. By doing this, it keeps your form locked in and allows you to lift more weight.
Here’s what proper Deadlift form looks like when you push through your feet as opposed to pulling with your upper body.
As you can see, he’s keeping his chest up, locking his lats in, keeping a neutral spine, and pushing through his feet. This allows him to Deadlift massive weights without injuring his back.
Think about pushing through your feet on all of your warmups so it’s second nature when you get to your work sets!
10. Deadlift Less
Deadlifts are incredibly taxing on your body’s CNS (Central Nervous System), and because of this, Deadlifting more than twice a week is unheard of for most people.
Some of the strongest people in the world who Deadlift over 900 lbs only Deadlift once every 2 weeks since it’s so taxing on their bodies. As you get stronger and build muscle, it makes sense that you’ll have to Deadlift less.
If you’re a beginner, Deadlifting up to 3 times per week will be fine, but as you improve, you will absolutely have to drop this down to 1 or 2 days max. For Intermediate lifters, 2 days per week with one day doing heavier Conventional Deadlifts and another day of Romanian Deadlifts seems to work perfectly.
If you find you’re having a hard time recovering, drop it down to 1 day per week and keep striving to handle more weight with good form.
11. Focus On Your Technique
It’s no secret that Deadlifts can cause serious injuries. That’s why it is absolutely essential to build solid technique from the beginning. Nothing is worse than getting an injury due to improper lifting technique.
When this happens, it can take months or even longer to get to the same weights you were doing. Staying injury-free is so important for longevity and because of that, I make it a point to never let my athletes get injured.
By focusing on your technique for a long time you can get stronger without pushing the weights up too fast to do so.
The best plan of attack I’ve found for building Deadlift technique is by performing sets of 5 reps with attention to power and speed.
Here’s how this should look in practice.
Notice how every rep he does has perfect execution with attention to fast bar speed? That’s how you build solid technique. If you find your Deadlift form is garbage, back the weight off and work on power as you see here. I guarantee you’ll get stronger and stay injury-free.
12. Do Romanian Deadlifts!
I have a huge love for Romanian Deadlifts. They’re a badass movement that works the entire posterior chain, grip, and core strength. On top of that, they build muscle that regular Deadlifts fail to.
The increased range of motion and time under tension builds all of the muscles necessary to Deadlift more. If you find you’re having a hard time staying tight while Deadlifting, working on and improving your Romanian Deadlift strength is something I would highly recommend.
As stated earlier in this article, doing sets of 5-10 reps on your Romanian Deadlifts will build a ton of muscle mass and stability in your hamstrings, lower back, and entire posterior chain.
There aren’t many exercises that train this many muscle groups all at once with heavy weights! Make sure you start with lighter weight and keep a neutral spine throughout the entire range of motion!
13. Record Your Lifts
This is one of the most important components of training that is underutilized in my experience.
By recording your lifts, you can see where you have technique breakdowns and what to work on. This can and will allow you to lift more weight over the long run.
So many people feel like their form is correct when it really needs more work than they can imagine. Getting a “coach’s eye” when you don’t have a coach available is invaluable.
When I was preparing for my 300×3 lb Bench, 405 Squat, 500 Deadlift, and 185 Press, I recorded all of my top attempts each week leading up to it. This allowed me to look for technical breakdowns that needed to be corrected.
As you get stronger, allowing your technique to break down is the difference between missing a heavy 1 Rep Max attempt and crushing it. Record your lifts including your Deadlift and look for mistakes you need to correct, it will pay off over the long term!
14. Eat Enough To Fuel Hard Deadlift Training
I’ve seen this mistake again and again for as long as I’ve been reading, researching, and learning as much as I can about nutrition. To get stronger, you need to eat more food to fuel hard training.
For heavy barbell movements, such as the Deadlift, this is one of the most important things you can possibly do to maximize performance. If you’re trying to build a big Deadlift, you HAVE to eat enough!
This is not up for debate and I really can’t stress this enough! Just how much is enough for heavy training?
Eating at maintenance calories or a slight surplus (250-500 calories) is definitely enough to maximize performance. Of course, the macronutrients you consume for strength training matter as well.
Strength training isn’t as fatiguing as bodybuilding training with higher reps. Because of this, we definitely don’t need to be consuming a crazy amount of carbs. However, the more carbohydrates you consume, the better performance will be.
With this in mind, set your protein to 0.8-1 gram per lb of bodyweight, fats can be as low as 0.3 grams per lb of bodyweight, and the rest of your calories can come straight from carbs.
This will give you all of the benefits of high protein, enough healthy fats to maintain a healthy hormone profile in the body, and full glycogen stores to recover from and fuel heavy Deadlifts.
If you haven’t been eating enough and want to build a big Deadlift, now is the time.
15. Start From A Dead Stop
One of the main downsides to the Deadlift is its lack of a stretch reflex. When Squatting, Benching, and Overhead Pressing, the eccentric portion of the lift has a stretch reflex that allows you to “rebound” with the natural elasticity of your muscles.
If this is hard to imagine, think of a rubber band, the more you pull it back the greater the elastic force will be when you release it. This is how the eccentric portion of a lift works as well.
Since the Deadlift starts from a dead stop on the ground, there is no stretch reflex present. When people do what is called “touch and go” Deadlifts, they’re using an artificial stretch reflex that shouldn’t exist while Deadlifting.
A lot of times, each rep looks completely different when doing “touch and go” Deadlifts as well. This makes it very difficult to practice good form, maintain abdominal pressure and prevent injury.
All this really does is feed the ego because it allows you to do more weight. The only people I would recommend to do “touch and go” Deadlifts are those that have trained for at least a decade and have EXCEPTIONAL technique.
For everybody else, we want to start our Deadlifts from a dead stop every rep. This allows us to take our air, maintain a neutral spine, and perform the Deadlift with great technique.
If you find your form is breaking down each rep and you’re not performing your Deadlifts from a dead stop, start doing it right now.
You’ll most likely have to back off the weight to do this correctly but your longevity as a lifter will be extended practicing safe, consistent form.
16. Build Stronger Deadlift Muscles
When I say deadlift muscles, I mean all of the muscle groups necessary for building a bigger Deadlift.
From the top to the bottom, here are all of the major muscle groups necessary to build a bigger Deadlift.
- Low Back.
Yeah…every muscle group in the body basically. But this is why the Deadlift is such an awesome movement. It strengthens the entire body and it’s great at it!
The other good news about this is that you have a ton of muscle groups to strengthen to make the Deadlift even stronger!
When it comes to training these muscle groups there’s a lot of overlap between exercises.
For the traps, rhomboids, lats, and forearms; any rowing movement will work luckily!
The low back, glutes, and hamstrings are also easy to work. More Deadlifting variations such as Sumo Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, and even basic things such as Back Extensions and Kettlebell Swings work well for this.
Finally, the quads are covered by Squats, Leg Press, Trap Bar Deadlift, Hack Squats, Legg Extensions, and other movements.
I went over what to use for training abs above so refer to that for ideas on how to train them correctly.
As you can see, training the muscles necessary to build a big Deadlift is pretty easy to figure out but requires a lot of work.
Definitely do your best to pick movements that have the most overlap and build the most muscle mass possible for a big Deadlift!
17. Find The Best Deadlift Set-Up For You
When it comes to finding the correct starting position, the Deadlift doesn’t have to be too complicated. A standard position I usually recommend is by getting prepared to jump!
It’s super easy, you prepare to jump and look down to see where your feet naturally end up. This is where your body is able to produce the most force. Start with your feet in this position and adjust them as necessary.
You’re going to want to turn your toes out slightly. This will allow you to use your glutes more and keep your knees from bowing in.
Next, we want to take the correct grip on the barbell. The narrower your grip is the more upright your torso will be while pulling. Your grip on the barbell should be strong from the start. Think about crushing the barbell as much as you can.
From here, you want to take in your air, pull the slack out of the bar (more on this later), lock in your lats, and keep the bar right against the shins.
This is your starting position and shouldn’t be too complicated. Obviously, your form will be tweaked as you build muscle and your leverages change. As far as figuring out your individual starting position, look at the form of people that have a similar body type as yours.
If you have super long arms and short legs I guarantee there are elite level lifters out there with that exact same build.
Anybody that says your starting position has to look the same no matter what your body structure looks like can’t be trusted. Do your best to find yours and watch you improve your Deadlift greatly!
18. Implement Rack/Block Pulls
Some of the best movements for building a bigger Deadlift involve Deadlifting from various heights using Rack and Block Pulls.
These allow you to overload different positions of your Deadlift in a way that builds more strength that transfers over to your main lift.
The main movements that I’ve seen that build a substantial amount of strength on are below the knee Rack and Block Pulls. These movements allow you to build strength right at your lockout where a lot of people are weak at.
If you go higher than the knee it doesn’t seem to transfer over much at all and is just a way to boost your ego with excessive weight.
The main benefit I’ve found is it overloads your traps and mid-back significantly. Building a thick back is important for increasing your Deadlift strength potential so these are definitely a must!
19. Be Aggressive
I’ve seen many people in the gym over the years Deadlift in a way that puts them at a disadvantage. One of these issues I’ve seen involves not being aggressive while Deadlifting.
To pull big weights and get stronger at a brutal movement such as the Deadlift, you need to be aggressive and brutal with the movement as well. This might sound like macho bullshit but it isn’t.
Getting stronger at the Deadlift requires a certain mindset that some people just don’t have, unfortunately. Building maximal strength in a movement that requires significant mental fortitude is difficult. Deadlifts are hard and require an aggressive attitude.
Every time you approach the bar, you want to think about ripping it off the ground with as much force as you can. By doing this, you’ll build massive amounts of explosive power and strength.
Being aggressive is important for lifting heavy weights in general so get after it and push yourself hard on every rep. You’re trying to rip the earth out from under you on every rep!
Do this, and you’ll improve your deadlift greatly.
20. Do A Lot Of Submaximal Reps
One of the main points I made above involved working on technique with attention to bar speed and power. Sets of 3-5 reps with solid form and pushing the reps explosively helps build technique and strength equally.
If you just attempt to grind out heavy weights week after week you’ll notice a huge decrease in performance after a while. This is something a lot of people don’t think about but sometimes the best way to get stronger is by lifting faster and not heavier.
By improving power output with submaximal weights, you’ll absolutely get stronger without overtaxing your Central Nervous System with super heavy weights week after week.
Next time you Deadlift, try doing 3 sets of 5 reps while pushing your rep speed as much as you can. Continue adding weight and keep this bar speed up as you get stronger as the weeks go by.
You can get a ton of strength out of submaximal reps if you do them correctly. If you just move the weight slowly without trying to accelerate the bar quickly, it’s not going to work out the way you might think.
This is also a great way for athletes to train as well. By pushing the rep speed over bar weight, they can get stronger during the in-season instead of grinding out heavy weights that affect recovery and performance.
Now that’s a win-win to me!
21. Perform Deadlifts First
When the goal is building a stronger Deadlift, you definitely want to train it first whenever you’re training it for the day. Imagine doing lunges, back extensions, ab wheel, and other movements before doing your Deadlifts. I imagine your Deadlift performance will go down drastically don’t you?
A general rule I always have myself and my clients follow is to do big compound movements before any of your assistance movements. Barbell exercises allow you to build the most strength so they should be done first when performance and fatigue is at it’s lowest.
If you’ve been training your Deadlift last in a workout (I really hope you haven’t!), then start doing them at the beginning of your training sessions. I guarantee you’ll see a quick boost in progress by pushing them when you’re fresh!
22. Engage Your Lats
One of the main cues you should be thinking about while setting up for the Deadlift is to engage your lats. The best way I’ve found to do this is by grabbing the bar, rotating your elbows in and locking in your upper back.
By doing this, your back will stay stabilized through the entire lift without rounding. If you find this hard to do, I would definitely recommend training your lats more and learning to engage them properly.
Here’s a video on how to do this correctly!
23. “Squeeze” The Weight Off The Ground
We want to think about Deadlifting explosively every rep, however, we want to make sure we do this under control.
Think of “squeezing” the barbell off of the ground each rep. This will allow you to keep tension throughout your body instead of doing a cat stretch pose.
Please don’t do this. If you do you’re going to injure yourself I guarantee it.
Along with the next tip coming up, you can maintain a good bar position and prevent the barbell from whipping around. By doing this, you get stronger and help prevent injuries from form breaking down.
Next time you Deadlift, do your best not to “grip it and rip it”, otherwise you’re asking for an injury down the road. Maybe not now, or 6 months now, but it WILL happen eventually.
24. Pull The Slack Out Of The Bar
This is an important cue I learned long ago!
Before pulling the barbell, you want to “pull the slack out of it first”. By doing this, you allow your body to get tight before initiating the pull. This will also prevent you from jerking the bar off of the ground which I see a lot of beginner lifters do.
The best part about pulling the slack out of the barbell is that you use your bodyweight like a counterweight. I’ve done this before myself and the bar leaves the ground before I even start pulling it if the weight is light enough!
This allows you to use your bodyweight to leverage the weight up and improve your overall power output.
Here’s yet ANOTHER video on this basic premise!
This guy does a good job of going over just how to pull the slack out of the bar. And as you can see, before he even pulls the barbell at lower weights, the barbell rises off the ground. That’s how it’s done!
25. Hold Your Breath!
This is my final tip for this article and I saved the best for last! When training for maximal strength in the Deadlift, the most important tip I can possibly give is to hold your breath!
Utilizing intra-abdominal pressure is the one thing you need to be doing to Deadlift more weight and do it safely. When you watch any of the strongest lifters in the world what are they doing before a heavy Deadlift?
Taking in a huge breath of air and holding it!
It might not be as exaggerated but you can tell he’s taking a deep breath DOWN into his abdominal area and holding it throughout the whole rep. If somebody tells you this is unsafe when attempting heavy weights they’re flat out wrong I’m afraid.
By breathing down into your abdominals and pressuring your core out into your back and obliques, you can maintain a strong and rigid midsection when form is incredibly important.
If you want to learn more on how to do this correctly, here is an awesome video from Chris Duffin of Kabuki Strength on how to do it! Just a fair bit of warning, the video doesn’t have the best audio but it’s full of information.
What do you guys think the most important factor is when it comes to building a bigger Deadlift? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,